Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27.10-18; Luke 13.22-35
+ Last Sunday, of course, I revealed to all of you a fairly substantial change I made in my life. Last week I revealed that I had returned once again to being a vegetarian. Personally, I thought such a revelation was kind of a small thing. I mean, honestly, who would care? Right?
Uh-uh. Not so.
I had a full range of responses regarding it, from some wonderful words of encouragement to some very concerned words. And some people were just afraid that inviting me over for supper might be a difficult thing (not so, I think they found out).
For my part, this whole vegetarian decision has been wonderful. I have been greatly enjoying it. I have been realizing I haven’t really been enjoying the food I’ve been eating for some time. And the food I have been eating since making my decision has been wonderful. So, I’ve been greatly enjoying it.
However, one of my favorite responses this week was from a priest friend of mine who guessed, incorrectly, that I would not be preaching on our Genesis reading for this morning. I was confused when she brought it up to me. Why wouldn’t I be preaching on the Genesis reading?
“Well,” my friend said, “now that you’re a vegetarian, I couldn’t imagine you’d be comfortable preaching about those poor animals being cut up by Abram and laid about.”
Au contraire! I actually love the reading from Genesis this morning. I think, despite its violence, it’s an incredible story. So, let’s take a look at the reading from Genesis.
In it, we find God making a covenant with Abram (soon to be called Abraham). God commands Abram to sacrifice these different animals, to cut them in half and to separate them. I’ll admit: yes, very strange. But, for me anyway, the really strange part of the reading is that smoking fire pot and the flaming torch passing between the pieces. That really captured my imagination.
If we don’t know the back story—if we don’t understand the meaning of the cut animals—then the story makes little sense. It’s just another gruesome, violent story from the Hebrew Scriptures.
But if we examine what covenant is all about, then the story starts taking on a new meaning. I love the stories about God and humans making covenants with each other. I once made a point of studying all the stories in the scripture in which a covenant between God ad human was established. There is something so meaningful and so relational in doing such things.
Covenant of course is not a word we hear used often anymore. In fact, none of us use it except when talking about religious things. But a covenant is very important in the scriptures. A covenant is a binding agreement. And when one enters into a covenant with God, essentially that bound agreement is truly bound. There’s no unbinding it.
In the days of Abram, when one made a covenant with someone, it was common practice for that person entering the agreement to cut up an animal and then to stand in the middle of the cut-up pieces. Essentially what they were saying by doing so was: “let this happen to me if I break our covenant.”
What we find happening in our reading this morning is that it is not Abram standing in the midst of those cut-up animals. Rather it is God. God is saying to Abram that if I ever break this covenant with you let happen to me what has happened to these animals. God is saying to Abram: “My Word is good. If this relationship between you and I breaks down it is not I who breaks the covenant.”
So, you can understand why I like this reading and how I think we can’t easily go around this image of cut-up animals.
Then, we come to our Gospel reading. The part of this story that caught me was how the Pharisees came to tell Jesus that he was in danger from Herod. Or rather, I should say, I was taken with Jesus’ reaction to this news. He is not concerned at all over Herod or even the danger that he himself is in. His concern rather is for Jerusalem—for the city which, no doubt, was in sight. His concern is for the city he is about to enter and in which he knows he will meet his death. As he does so, Jesus does something at this moment that really is amazing. He laments. He uses words similar to those found in the lamenting psalms. He uses poetry.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
It is beautiful. And it is powerful. It’s incredible poetry.
Knowing what he knew—knowing that in Jerusalem he will be betrayed and murdered—Jesus laments. He knows that what essentially is going to happen in Jerusalem is what happened while Abram slept. He, instead of the animals, will essentially cut up. He will be sacrificed. He will bleed.
And there, on the cross, in Jerusalem, God will once again stand in the midst of a shattered body—the Body of Jesus—and say to God’s people: “See my Word is good. I am remaining faithful to the covenant we have made.”
We, here on Sunday morning, see it again. It is reenacted for us here at the altar. Here we break this bread—this Body of Jesus—this sacrificial lamb. And here, in the midst of that broken body, God again says to us again and again, “See, my Word is good. I am faithful to covenant you and I have made.”
And in the midst of this realization, we too recite poetry.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the word have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
But the image doesn’t end there either. If we only look at this broken body as separate, as other, than it has no real meaning for us. But if we look at that broken body as our own broken bodies and the broken bodies of those around us, especially recognizing our brokenness in this season of Lent, we see the light in the midst of that brokenness. We see that light dancing in that brokenness. We see that light of God shining through even us—broken and shattered as we are. Unless we see that light in our brokenness, this season of Lent is not truly meaningful. We will be stuck only in the brokenness and we don’t see the renewed covenant God has made with us.
In the shattered, cut-open pieces of our lives, God, as a bright light passes back and forth. In that “deep and terrifying darkness” God appears to us as a light. All we have to do is recognize God in that midst of that darkness.
That is the meaning of Lent for us. That is the wonderful recognition we see, revealed in our very midst, here at this altar and here in our very lives.
It simply amazes me at times. It amazes how God works in these incredible ways. It amazes me that God, in the midst of my own brokenness, my own fractured being, allows the light to shine through. And not just a glimmer here and there. But a light that dances, that weaves and circles back and forth.
So, let us, in this Lenten season, see that light dancing in our own brokenness. Let us see God working in us and through us. Let us hear God saying to us, in brokenness, “My Word is good.” In doing so, in seeing that light and hearing those words, all we can sometimes do is open our mouths and let them the poems within us sing out to our God.